From camping to prisons, lawmakers put own mark on Gov. Noem’s agenda


PIERRE — Hundreds of millions worth of special projects and initiatives in the budget Gov. Kristi Noem proposed back in December made it into the stack of budget bills that now sit on her desk.

But as the dust settles on a Legislative session filled with spats between the executive branch and members of Republican leaders in the state House, it’s clear South Dakota’s 97th gathering of elected officials at the state Capitol proved rocky for the governor’s office.

Not uncommon, Noem got the bulk of what she wanted in the budget: $200 million for workforce housing, $600 million for water projects and 6% raises for teachers, community support providers and state workers.

More:State budget: Legislature snubs Gov. Kristi Noem, bridles power to spend federal stimulus

But other key legislation coming from Second Floor, as capitol insiders commonly refer to the executive branch, didn’t. And it wasn’t just budgetary.

From camping and shooting ranges to critical race theory, vaccine mandates and prisons, lawmakers were anything but a rubberstamp this year.

Here’s a look at a few proposals that came up short.

Low resolution copy of a map illustrating the 175 proposed campsites and accompanying road system Gov. Kristi Noem hopes to construct in Custer State Park. The proposed project is estimated to cost $9.9 million.

Changes to Custer State Park

A plan to build 176 campsites along Wildlife Loop Road became a high-profile hiccup for the Noem administration early in the session. The $10-million plan brought a chorus of public opposition to Capitol inboxes and voicemails.

And even a late change to cut the scope and price of the project by half and relocate it off the wildlife loop couldn’t get it past the committee stage of the legislative process in either chamber.

More:Gov. Kristi Noem not pleased with workforce housing initiative that finally earned lawmaker approval

Women dressed in orange shirts file back into the medium-security housing unit within the South Dakota Women's Prison. The state has the fourth-highest rate of incarceration of women in the nation.

New women’s prison still out of reach

South Dakota has major criminal justice and corrections expenses ahead, with the governor cautioning lawmakers to brace for as much as $600 million in new prison facilities necessary.

But lawmakers want more time before giving the go ahead to start building. And instead of signing off on a request for $38 million from the Department of Corrections to construction a women’s work release prison in Rapid City, lawmakers opted to grant just $3.8 million for the land the new facility will be built on.

Rapid City shooting range

The House of Representatives earned a hat-trick in shooting down Black Hills-area projects when they killed a $5 million request to fund a 175-bay shooting range on 400 acres of state-owned land near Rapid City.

The proposal had opposition from nearby landowners and saw repeated deaths, being killed at the committee level in both chambers before being killed twice on the floor of the House of Representatives. A conference committee Wednesday also blocked the request from being added to an unrelated bill.

Vaccine mandates

It wasn’t just spending requests that proved challenging for the governor’s office to get passed.

A proposal from the governor to codify an individual’s right to seek a religious or medical exemption from COVID-19 vaccines went down in the this last week of session, after clearing the Senate earlier in the session.

That’s because after the House modified her bill to include more broad language, which would also have forced private employers honor ideological exemptions from the COVID-19 shot, a conference committee opted to not pass any new law related to vaccine mandates this year.  

Former Speaker of the House Steven Haugaard congratulates current speaker Spencer Gosch before he is sworn in on Tuesday, January 12, in the House of Representatives at the South Dakota State Capitol in Pierre.


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